- “Nobody can discover the world for someone else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become a common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” -Wendell Berry
It’s November 1st, almost 2 months since my journey began. After finishing midterms on October 24th, we left for our fall break trip. I’m back from a whirlwind trip to Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Brussels with lots of stories and photos to share! We only spent a total of five days traveling, but we ate a lot of great food and experienced a little of the culture in each place.
The main reason we decided to spend time in Austria during our break was to take a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. We all grew up watching the movie and dreamed of visiting the beautiful city made famous by the film. The weeks before our trip, we sang all of our favorite songs and watched clips of the movie in preparation. The night before, we slept in the Madrid airport in order to make our 6am flight. The first bus from Toledo to Madrid isn’t until 6am, so it was the easiest and most affordable option to go the night before. Sore from sleeping on airport chairs and exhausted, we boarded our flight to Frankfurt, Germany where we were scheduled to have a 4 hour layover. We made it to Frankfurt without any issues and had a nice lunch and little nap in the airport. We were preparing to board when the gate agent informed us that our flight was delayed because the pilot needed to go to the hospital. Medical emergencies on airplanes seems to be a trend this semester… We ended up being stranded in the airport for another 3 hours. The time of our Sound of Music tour came and went and we were still in the airport. Had we known we would have so much time, we could have explored Germany! We tried to think of a few of our favorite things to make ourselves feel better. Finally, we were able to take off. We made it to Salzburg just before dark. The views from the plane as we landed in Salzburg were incredible. The airport is right near the mountains, so we got a great overhead view. Once we got into the center of the city, we were able to see a few of the sites from the movie on our own before it got too dark. I posted a clip from the movie that shows the fountain and archway we visited. Obviously we sang Do Re Mi as we ran under the archway!
After doing a little exploring, we ate dinner at an authentic Austrian restaurant. We tried our first Austrian beers and had an excellent meal. We were able to sit outside on the deck, which was warm and comfortable because of heat lamps. Inside the restaurant, it was crowded and smoky. We remembered how thankful we are that smoking inside restaurants isn’t legal in Minnesota! We went to bed early that night in preparation for our 6am train the next morning. Unfortunately, we only spent 12 hours in Salzburg. I would love to return one day and take an official Sound of Music tour and see more of the city in daylight.
Our next destination was Vienna. We took a short and comfortable train ride. I should have slept, but I couldn’t stop looking out the window at the beautiful views of mountains and fall colors. Since we only had one day in Vienna as well, we wanted to see as much as possible. We quickly dropped everything off at our hostel and began to tour the city. We soon discovered that it wasn’t an ordinary day in Vienna. We walked into the main city square to find it crowded with Austrian soldiers and on-lookers. Later, we discovered that it was Austrian National Day, a holiday that celebrates the Declaration of Neutrality that happened just after World War 2. The sound of soldiers being given orders reminded me of clips I’ve seen of Hitler speaking to Nazi troops. It was an amazing feeling and reminder of the recent struggles of the country and how far they’ve come. We joined native Austrians in the festivities after. We ate real Austrian “wursts” and people watched. The fall colors reminded us of Minnesota, but with much better scenery! We had a great day wandering around the city and participating in the celebrations. We even made our way to an amusement park and rode a roller-coaster. That night, we had a nice meal at an outdoor restaurant in the middle of a plaza. We tried a delicious Austrian shandy. It was a great day! I also would have liked to spend a little more time in Vienna, but we saw a lot in a short amount of time.
Prague, Czech Republic
When we added Prague to our list, I really had no idea what to expect. I had heard from numerous people that it was one of their favorite cities in Europe, but I never knew why. I was intrigued about the country because I have some Czech ancestors. On our train ride from Vienna to Prague, we saw some rough parts of the Czech Republic. Crumbling buildings covered with graffiti lined the train tracks. There were no more mountains and the fall colors seemed to fade. I began to wonder why the heck we decided to leave Austria. When we arrived in Prague, my fears only became stronger. We got off the train and were overwhelmed by Czech language. Most words have many accents and few vowels, so attempting to sound something out wasn’t even an option. We also learned that they have their own currency called the “crown”. The Czech Republic has only been a country since 1993, so it is not yet been allowed to use the Euro. Freaked out by all of the changes, we found our way to the hostel. As I looked at the city around me, I slowly started to warm up to the idea of being in Prague. The architecture is beautiful, but very different from other cities in Europe that I’ve been to. It wasn’t until we sat down to lunch that my fears disappeared and I really fell in love with the city. We ate bread bowls filled with goulash, my favorite meal in Europe so far. We also learned that everything in Prague was actually very affordable. Even though most meals cost a couple hundred crowns, it was equivalent to only about 8 euros. If there’s cheap and delicious food in a city, I’ll probably love it there! After lunch, we walked to the Charles Bridge, one of the main sites. It is a long bridge that connects both sides of the city. The bridge is lined with street performers and vendors. We loved listening to the music and taking in the views.
Instead of having to board another 6am train or plane the next morning, we actually got to sleep in a little and spend another full day in Prague! Our first stop was the palace. It’s actually a palace and many more important and beautiful buildings in the same complex. As we were leaving, we were directed to exit by a path that went through the woods on the grounds of the palace. We were confused as hundreds of people waited to climb a narrow stairway to exit. When we finally reached the top, we discovered why. There was a military procession and the streets were lined with people. Like in Vienna, we were surprised to discover that it was a national holiday. Independent Czechoslovak State Day celebrates the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. We couldn’t believe we visited two different countries with two different independence celebrations in the same weekend! It was a great way to feel immersed in the culture and learn a little bit more history of the locations. One highlight of our trip in Prague was an amazing dessert called Trdelnik. It is similar to a soft pretzel, but is covered in sugar and other sweet goodness. Of course we had to sample it from three different places! I would return to Prague solely to eat one again.
We spent the rest of the day visiting other tourist hot spots, including Old Town, an area with many pretty cathedrals, houses, and shops. It also has the oldest functioning astronomical clock in the world. We finished the afternoon with a nice lunch at a cozy Italian restaurant, then returned to our hostel early because we had to wake up at 4am to make our flight to our next destination, Brussels.
Originally, Brussels wasn’t a part of our trip plan. When we were planning our flights, we realized we would need another layover somewhere on our return journey. We decided to have a 7 hour layover in Brussels because Bri’s cousin lives there and offered to pick us up from the airport and show us around for the day. We arrived in the early morning and were greeted by her cousin Liz and her adorable baby Everett. Our first stop was to a local market where they sold fresh produce, clothing, and other products, but most importantly: fresh Belgian waffles. I have never been more excited to eat something in my entire life. After waking up at 4am and not eating breakfast, a warm and sweet waffle was such a blessing. After the market, we went to the center of the city and walked around. It was great having someone there to tell us about Belgium since I knew nothing before our trip! We learned that Belgium has three official languages: German, Dutch, and French. It is a small but densely populated country and is also home to the European Union headquarters. I really liked what we saw (and ate!) in Brussels, but I was happy we only spent a day there.
Back in Spain
This weekend, I decided to stay in Toledo. After an exhausting week of traveling and catching up on school work, I am excited to have some time to relax. Last night was Halloween, so we had a special dinner at school and dressed up and went out in Toledo. I was surprised to learn that Spain is beginning to celebrate Halloween. Kids wear costumes and trick-or-treat and lots of stores sold decorations and costumes. Spaniards mostly wear costumes that are scary. We saw lots of zombies and characters from American horror movies, even on little children. More popular than Halloween in Spain is All Saints Day, which is today. It is a holiday where Spaniards honor the lives of those who have died. Toledo was very crowded with tourists for the holiday, so it was fun to wander around and people watch. Next weekend, I am traveling to Florence, Italy.